Sunday, April 5, 2015

Air to Air Weapons Load

During WWII, if an aircraft could achieve a single kill on a mission, it was considered a success.  Similarly, if an aircraft could destroy a single ground target, it was considered a hugely successful mission.  Now, however, we expect our strike aircraft to destroy multiple ground targets per mission.  It makes no sense to send out (risk) an expensive aircraft loaded with the latest technology and merely hope for a single target to be destroyed.  That’s too much risk for too little return.  In addition, we simply don’t have sufficient numbers of aircraft to accept single target missions.  The wisdom of that trend is debatable but the fact of the matter is not.

Though it hasn’t really been doctrinally stated yet, presumably, we’re going to expect our fighters to do the same.  We have to, given the ever decreasing numbers of aircraft and their corresponding increase in cost and complexity.  An F-22 that goes out and achieves a single kill is going to represent a lot of cost, effort, and risk for a meager return.  From the enemy’s perspective, tying up an F-22 trying to achieve a single kill, especially if it’s against a lesser aircraft, is almost a win for the enemy.

In order to achieve multiple kills, a fighter will need multiple missiles, of course.  Further, given the increasingly sophisticated stealth, countermeasures, and electronic warfare support that potential enemies can muster, our kill probabilities for a single missile shot are going to be poor, especially as our stealth fighters encounter more and more enemy stealth fighters.  One could envision future aerial stealth fights where several missiles are required to achieve a single kill.

Note:  I said it before, if two stealth fighters meet, it will almost become a WWI eyeballs fight !  It kind of makes you wonder about the wisdom of not providing the F-35C with a gun.  But, I digress …

So, there you have it.  Stealth fighters, operating in a sophisticated countermeasures and ECM environment, will be forced to expend many missiles to achieve a kill.  What does that mean for aircraft design?  It means that we need to design aircraft that can carry many more missiles than our current fighters.  For their internal loadouts, which is the condition that counts because we’re not going to be fighting peer aircraft in a non-stealthy configuration, our frontline aircraft carry these loadouts:

F-22    6 AMRAAM / 2 Sidewinder
F-35    4 AMRAAM

For the F-22, 8 missiles is not a lot for the conditions and scenario described above.  Worse, the F-35 has only 4 missiles.  This is going to come to be recognized as a severe design flaw.  The F-35 may be adequately equipped to go up against earlier generations of aircraft but will come up short against peers.

Manufacturer’s claims aside, air-to-air missile performance is, historically, pretty poor even before factoring in stealth, modern countermeasures, ECM, etc.  An F-35, with 4 missiles, will be lucky to get a single kill and may well run out of missiles before the fight is over!

We need to design in a much greater missile capacity especially if we’re going to continue to shrink our air wings.

We’ve often discussed how the military has fallen into the bad habit of designing weapons and systems for peacetime applications and low intensity, low threat scenarios.  We need to begin realizing that the rest of the world is gearing up for serious, high end combat and start adjusting our thinking.  Yes, there are many low end tasks to be accomplished but the measure of a military force is the ability to conduct high end combat.  Developmentally, we’ve been idling for the last couple of decades.  We need to get back in the fight.

Note that I am not an aerial combat expert (and neither are you!).  The scenario and conclusion I’ve presented seems logical but may be entirely wrong.  I would hope the military has tested peer aerial combat in an ECM and countermeasures environment.  In other words, I hope they’ve tested F-22s against F-22s and drawn some valid conclusions about missile effectiveness and usage rates.  Sadly, I doubt that they have.  While the results would, undoubtedly, be classified, nothing I’ve ever read even hints at such testing having taken place.

I offer this post as food for thought.


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    1. From what little info is available, the Cuda is radar guided like the Sparrow, isn't it? If so, that has the same weakness of having to keep the launching aircraft somewhat steady and pointed at the target.

    2. The Sparrow is semi-active, thats when the launching aircraft has to keep the nose pointed towards the target.

      From what info was presented to the public, the CUDA was supposed to be a Uber- hit to kill missile not needing a warhead but instead relying and a very accurate Active seeker.
      Then this program went of the gird.

      But Israel has made huge progress ( thanks to American help of course ) with hit to kill missiles...

  2. And no one knows where that CUDA concept went, they just showed it and that was it.
    Maybe it went nowhere , maybe it moved in to the black world ( most probably).

    Over the medium term multiband seekers incorporating radar and imaging infrared sensors seem to be the new big thing, the israelis have done it with the Stunner missile.
    Now the next logical solution would be to develop a AtoA missile with a similar seeker.

    Other than that, don't ask how good the AMRAAM is , but how good are the missiles of the Russian and Chinese.
    Just a Su-30/35 can carry 14 AtoA missies at max doesn't mean it can use them all .

    Again look at the Chineese, They have all the modern export versions of russian short and medium range AtoA missiles in they're inventory, yet still choose to develop domestic designs rather than just copying russian missiles.

    The most logical thing for the F-35 in the short term would be to adapt the Meteor missile , witch they probably will do but at a later time.

    Six AMRAAMs in the F-35 weapons bay is possible, only this capability is not the most needed and funded right now.

    1. I have only a nodding familiarity with Meteor. What does it offer over the latest version of AMRAAM? How does the cost compare?

    2. The keyword is:
      3 times greater no escape-zone than AMRAAM ( russian AA-12 has even less range than AMRAAM) .
      Most opinions out there go that it is superior to the AIM-120D.

      And another thing, they're not selling it in the middle east!
      The English have sold the Typhoon jet to Saudi Arabia along with ASRAAM missiles, but for some reason they're are not any planned export orders for this missiles to the mid east .

    3. Does the range determine escape zone? Or is it the effectiveness of the seeker/manueverability of the missile?

      I thought the AIM-120D wasn't bad in range, like 80nm or so? That's not so far off the Phoenix.

      I'd like to see the meteor. With the retirement of the Tomcat and the Phoenix I think the Navy desperately needs a long range engagement capability for fleet defense.

    4. Meteor hasnt entered production yet but will be a savior for the F-35B only RN carrier.

    5. It has entered limited serial production for now for Sweden and UK.

      Heres a old writeup

  3. And another thing, if a technological branch of any military is not worried ( too much) over any counter capability in the "opponents" arsenal than there has to be a reason.

    Remember the exercises they've run between F-22s and Aegis destroyers, after them the Navy said that they were not to much worried about stealth..

    1. Storm Shadow,

      I wish I did have that kind of faith. I'm not a huge believer in stealth myself (Yes, I think you need some. No, I don't think its the Sine qua non of 6th gen fighters).

      But, like the Tico 'modernizations' or the MCM abandonment, I'm skeptical of those in charge. Was this F-22 before or after the Navy stopped properly keeping the Aegis systems up to date? Was it a real test? I don't know.

      With the F-35 they seem in such a rush to get to IOC after 15 (!) years that it seems they are more than willing to do the hand wave on alot of key capabilities/fixes.

      "Can't handle high G's due to engine flex questions? (hand wave) we'll get to it later"

      "Can't shoot because the code to run the gun? (hand wave) We won't need that right away anyway"

      I question whether they'll ever get to this stuff, or once the plane is in the fleet it will be (hand wave) we'd like to have that stuff, but we've been living without it, and its way to expensive to retrofit the fixes...

      "Can't hold enough missiles for first day of war A2A missions?" (Hand wave) "We'll use synergistic tactics and sensor fusion to overcome that..."


  4. CNO,

    I can assure you that they actually have performed F-22 vs F-22 tests, including their effectiveness at combating each other with missiles.
    This happened at Tinker Air Force Base. A 'friend' of mine was there when it occurred, and I saw some footage of it (only the 'not technically classified', of course).
    They took 5 of our best and pitted them up against 5 of our best.
    Long story short, the end result was that neither side could reliably hit the other with missilery (to the point they were flabbergasted when a missile did connect) and almost every test rapidly devolved into a glorious airborne game of 400yd laser tag with high-flying stunts and maneuvers that hadn't been pulled out since WW2 and Vietnam, including 'missile tricking' (dodging).

    Of course, it means that you're right on the Mk1 Eyeball thing overall, but the shining bits of walk away information here is that F-22s are actually capable of extreme airframe-stress dogfighting and that the gun was extremely important.
    However, apparently, each of the airframes were grounded for several months pending airframe repairs after the tests, so...

    By the by, I hear (I wasn't privy to those videos) that they pitted the F-35A against the F-22 in similar tests as well.
    If I heard correctly, they never lost an F-22 in those tests while only a few F-35s /got away/...
    ...Which doesn't paint a very pretty picture for the future of our naval air supremacy, considering that the F-35B/C is worse in almost every way that the A model.

    - Ray D.

    1. I was thinking the other day that if the F-35C was cheaper, had SH light flight dynamics (reliably. With its engine flexion issues I'm not sure it does in real life) and could reliably supercruise at like Mach 1.3 with its 600nm combat radius... I'd feel a hell of alot better about it. Maybe they could even add a real gun to it...

      Of course, all that stuff is in question...

  5. The Brits especially will be screwed as the F-35 will be their main carrier air defence aircraft.

  6. Just out of interest Saudi Arabia has recently signed a contract for the Meteor air to air missile with manufacturer MBDA, for an estimated £650M, ($1Billion) for use with the Saudi Typhoons according to French newspaper La Tribune.




    1. Didn't know about that one, the missile is pretty new, who knows how much they downgraded the export version.

  7. Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. History does not repeat but it rhymes.

    2 good quotes to remember when discussing airplane numbers and armament.

    First look at the number and mix of aircraft on Carriers in WWII. The big decks became fighter platforms and the small decks became attack platforms. Note the Aircraft were DIFFERENT TYPES so that they were optimized for their DIFFERENT ROLES.
    Second look at the history of missile effectiveness in the last big battles Vietnam and Arab-Israeli. Missile were so bad that they were called sandwinders and were jettisoned because they were extra drag. An Israeli AF General famously said why waste a missile on an Arab to divert questions about why the IAF used Guns to achieve such a good kill ratio.

    Given the pathetic state of testing on weapons systems I doubt seriously that they have gotten that much better. But even if they have as the blog points out the planes have gotten better at defeating the missile guidance systems.

    How about we go back to simpler, optimized for each mission type, aircraft with working weapons systems. Maybe then we can afford enough airplanes to put enough working ordinance into the air to control the skies.

  8. The Joint Program Office agree with you ComNavOps.

    6 x AMRAAM to be carried internally from Block 4 onwards.

    That block sees a large number of weaponry qualified for use, along with the small adjustments (reportedly moving mounting and a pressure hose by an inch) to the B models internal bay to accommodate SDB-II.

  9. I was reading up recently on the latest F35 ‘issue’ with the sensor echo’s when in their 100mn separation diamond shape formation. ( their preferred hunting formation apparently )
    I think the point of this is to get a fix on a target from 4 angles at once; this will get you a very clear 3 dimensional fix on a single object, and get around issues like frontal stealth. Its likely to ( like CEC ) get you a much much better and consistent radar track in a high ECM contested environment, And in a really basic way stops you positioning all your planed one on top of each other to conceal numbers, and other tin pot tricks like that. ( See TOP GUN, tut )
    If you then use active guidance cue’d A2A weapons, WITH data link and mid-course correction, you can then take on a target ( or targets of your on-board computers are effectively processing many at once ) with HIGH accuracy and high resistance to ECM \ stealth and even chaff and flares type distractions.
    You also have 16 missiles available at one time, and like CEC you choose the best of your 4 ship’s to hit the target.
    N.B. the meteors “no escape” zone is defined by its throtleable ram jet propulsion meaning it can vary its speed and remain in powered flight continuously within its flight envelope. This mean in its terminal phase it is still powered, can accelerate and manoeuvre. Most A2A missiles don’t do this, but burn and coast.

  10. Thanks for the article. It's only when I read it that I could see how making one size fits all makes the plane fail overall. For the marines and the VTOL aspect, smaller means lighter aircraft. But for multi role, it fails. It needs to be like the Chinese stealth prototype- longer, for more fuel and larger internal payload.

    Even if all the hardware and software works, having just 2 missiles means they will need all 2400 odd planes in the air at the same time for any sort of success in missions. And remember B and C versions don't have internal guns either.

  11. The technological leaps are bad enough, but trying to make it VSTOL is what is killing it ultimately. And making it a HUGE risk for all branches.

    In order to accomodate the fan it has to be wider and draggier. In order to be common all fuselages have to have that wideness. In order to be able to take off and land with the fan it has to be super light, which has compromised strength.

    The F-35 just doesn't, according to the numbers, perform all that well. From what I've heard its supposed to be 'like' the F-16 or F-18; and both of those planes have real concerns when faced with new Russian or Chinese designs. We know the engine runs very hot to get the performance that they have, which isn't good for durability. I read an article last night that questions trans-sonic acceleration. It might not even be *as* good as the latest block F-16's.

    Its relying entirely on its stealth, sensors, and software. It was supposed to be the 'cheaper' solution to the F-22 but because it has to have the whizbang stuff work to be survivable its not going to be all that much cheaper.

    Had they built a 'budget' stealth airframe but left out the compromises for the lift fan, and been able to make it perform like the Rafale or Typhoon the risk wouldn't be as great. If the Whizbang stuff didn't work you could always punt on some of it and just have a great jet. Not as 'transformative' but competitive with modern avionics and missiles.

    Now? The whizbang stuff better work perfectly or we're stuck with over 2000 jets that are very expensive to buy and maintain and only good for attacking non peers.

    Whoever thought this up.... Its like taking McNamara's bad ideas and doubling down thinking that *this* time we'll get it right if only we add more requirements.

  12. Have you seen the price of Typhoon !? I don’t think you should model anything budget on it. Estimates have gone as high as £300m. Even if that isn’t accurate it’s not a cheap plane. It is however a bomb and missile truck and on the point of A2A weapons I think this is the point. In a world where NATO is expected to face superior numbers and get MANY:1 kill ratios. Numbers of weapons are important.

    People seem obsessed with the internal weapons load? As if slinging a single external sidewinder will totally light up the aeroplane like a Christmas tree. I really do wonder HOW MUCH the stealth is compromises with various load outs? And once expended are we back to 100% stealth.

    The F35 gun pod for instance is apparently stealthy? Now however you slice it the bigger you make the aeroplane the RCS will increase by some proportion. Are we looking at much of a stealth loss for this, because they seem to give the impression NOT?

    Low observability is not about invisibility, its about first look, first shoot, first kill, Somehow I cant see with the right long range sensors and weapons that 2-4 external AMRAAMS are going to bust that in favour of the F*ing massive RCS of moderm Su and Mi’s ?


  13. Interesting new piece on A2A.
    Kinetics vs Sensors and stealth.

    Very topical to ComNavOps Post


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  14. Beno,

    Good point. I sit corrected. To be fair I wasn't trying to make the point that the Typhoon was a budget plane. Rather that we could likely come up with a CTOL plane that had modern levels of performance and 'budget' level stealth far more cheaply than what we are doing with the F-35.

    As to the F-35, I think my point still stands. In order to be all things to all people, its an airframe full of compromises that relies on its transformative sensors and budget stealth to live.

    If its going against a peer/near peer, I still think its in deep trouble, even against an 4+ gen fighter that's had its conventional sensors continually updated. The 'stealth' on the F-35 is supposed to reduce its RCS mainly from the front. And its already 15 year old technology. Nearly 20 by the time it hits a realistic (all stuff working) IOC.

    Stealth isn't supposed to make an aircraft invisible, but it is static when its relying on airframes and coatings. The radars and the computers interpreting data on 4+ gen fighters *aren't*. It could be that by the time the F-35 really is out there with enough capability, the Russians and Chinese will have a radar or IRST that can see it at 100 miles well enough. Or that can see the heat that F-135 kicks out. And that situation is only going to get worse as the F-35 soldiers on into the mid 2000's and conventional sensor technology keeps improving.

    In that situation, it might not get the first look/shoot. But for the sake of argument, suppose it does. And misses. Now its closing with a fighter (maybe an SU-35) that is oceans better in terms of performance, and its closing range means its more vulnerable to detection from the front now that its announced itself. If it turns around, you have the F-135 pointing its maw towards IRST; and its not all that fast anyway.

    If it gets into a shooting fight, with its limited performance and ammunition, its dead.

    eliminate the VSTOL requirement and maybe it can have enough performance turn or run. And how often in the last 25 years has VSTOL been important tactically to the US?

    The breaking defense article was good. I just skimmed it. One thing that popped into my head: Were the BVR A2A engagements it was talking about peer engagements? Or 4+ gen fighters vs. Mig 23's?

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  15. B. Smitty,

    I'm not arguing against stealth per se. The Stealth on the F-35 may be fine. As far as I can tell, its not the stealth which is causing it to be such a poorly performing airplane. Its the VSTOL capability.

    And unless we come up with a missile that can shoot a bazillion miles away, so what?

    If the marble RCS plane that's slow and balky faces the beach ball RCS plan that's fast and nimble, and they can both see each other and shoot.... the F-35 has lost a huge part of its advantage.

    If we didn't stretch as far and were able to get the F-35 into IOC by say 2010 or even 2012 the life of its stealth would be longer. As it is every peer adversary has had 15 years to figure out its stealth and design measures against it. And they may well have 3-4 years more.

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    2. Of course stealth has a "life". Everything has a life. Effectiveness of any weapon, sensor, or attribute rises, plateaus, and declines.

      Visual camo effectiveness peaked in WWII and then declined as radar and IR negated its usefulness.

      Extreme speed and altitude, as exemplified by the U2, peaked in effectiveness and then declined as the Soviets learned to deal with it.

      And so on ...

      Stealth effectiveness peaked around Desert Storm and has plateaued or declined since as IR/EO sensors have been refined, more effective radars have been developed, and processing power has improved.

      In 15 years, during what should be the heart of the F-35's effectiveness (assuming it reaches squadron service by then!), it may well be that the F-35 level of stealth is only marginally effective. The F-35 would have been a good aircraft 10 years ago but it's period of maximum effectiveness is passing while it lingers in developmental limbo.

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    4. I don't think anyone's questioning stealth vs. Libya. The F-35 isn't priced as a 'lets go bomb Libya' aircraft. Its priced as a 'Lets square off against China' plane. An A6 with stand off weapons would be a hell of alot cheaper to deal that level of adversary than an F-35.

      I guess that's my point. I can see a situation where an SU-35 with uber sensors (which aren't that far off) can get a targeting lock on an F-35 at extreme range. If they can both shoot and similar ranges the F-35 has one way of dealing with it (stealth, EA) and the SU-35 has another (Manuevering, EA). If missiles are as accurate as you say, then both planes go down and they lost a $60 million dollar jet and we lost a $1XX million dollar jet. We're on the wrong side of that money equation.

      If missiles aren't as deadly, well then there is another issue because of the missile loadouts. If the SU-35 has a chance of surviving the 4 missiles through manuevering or EA, then there's a chance of a merge. And then the F-35 has real issues.

      Again, an F-35 that had real performance capabilities, was cheaper, and had a gun... great! I'm all about it.

      This thing? At the cost? There's lots of holes in its games. And that's assuming that all of the F-35's stuff works.

    5. B.Smitty: A marble is still a marble. A beach ball is still a beach ball.

      There is one factor here which must be taken into account in the marble versus beach ball comparison -- both a marble and a beach ball have an all-aspect RCS because their shape and their surface texture is uniform in all directions.

      Not so with an F-35 fighter jet. It does not carry all aspect stealth. So in that regard, it is more like a flattened beach pebble than a marble or a beach ball.

      Don't mind me, I'm just trying to make things more complicated.

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  17. "Not really. An A-6 likely has an RCS in the 5-10m2 range, which the high end estimate for Irbis-E can detect at nearly 300nm. The marble is still only detectable at 20-25nm.

    A high-end enemy AEW aircraft can likely see an A-6 at its maximum effective range and vector aircraft to intercept, just like E-3s saw Iraqi aircraft taking off, and vectored fighters to kill them during ODS."

    My writing must not have been clear.

    "I don't think anyone's questioning stealth vs. Libya. The F-35 isn't priced as a 'lets go bomb Libya' aircraft. Its priced as a 'Lets square off against China' plane. An A6 with stand off weapons would be a hell of alot cheaper to deal that level of adversary than an F-35. "

    No, the A6 won't do well against the SU-35. When I said the A6 would be better against 'That level of adversary' I was referring to Libya. Not China.I meant that it was alot cheaper to run a legacy platform with stand off weapons against a non peer adversary. I still stand by that. If we buy the F-35 to fight Libya and Syria we're making a really stupid purchasing decision.

    And, sure. The F-35 may get first look on the SU-35. First shoot is another matter entirely.

    I think we are going in circles. My main point, and I don't think its contestable, is that the F-35's stealth is aging vs. sensor devlopment due to its horrifically long development cycle; and that this is going to make its stealth less effective in the future.

    It doesn't matter if its a marble if the missiles and sensors developed 15 years after it started development can lock on to a marble. Is the stealth useless? No, better a marble than a beach ball, no question. It may help it evade. I'm trying to be clear, so let me see if I can summarize:

    * I'm not saying NO STEALTH STEALTH BAD. I am saying 'This planes performance stinks and its stealth may not be enough to help it'. Keep the stealth of the F-35 the same, except make it cheaper, better performing, and with a better internal A2A loadout, and I'm fine with it. The stealth isn't its achilles heal, or even a weak point. I just don't think its enough by itself.

    * I'm further saying I really doubt the predictions that aircraft performance is a passe thing because missiles will just hunt down and kill whatever. That's always been predicted and never been the case.

    * Finally, I'm a bit amazed. When I read about the F-35 at first, it was all about the F-35 acting in concert with the F-22. The F-35's A2A potential was supposed to be mainly defensive and self escorting. The F-22 was supposed to provide air dominance. To hear people talk now the F-35 is going to be a nearly unassailable air dominance platform because it will always get first look/shoot and its missiles will never miss.

    This platform is being shoehorned into alot of areas, and its horrifically expensive to buy *and* to maintain. Its not a good purchase, IMHO.

    But, as I said, I think we're going in circles. I'm going to hit the silk and bail on the argument. You don't think my arguments hold any water, and I'm not compelled by yours, so I can agree to disagree. :-)

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    1. :-) I too can get knee jerk reactions. I apologize if I had one.

      I will say I'm a bit dismayed that the Navy seems to be less interested in its airwings performing as it used too. The Tomcat, for its day, was a heck of an aircraft.

      I always think of the SH as more of a 'Camry for the 90's'. Its not as hot, doesn't have the range, but it has alot of decent tech, is affordable, and is really reliable. I guess it made sense for what they thought they'd be doing (Balkans type airstrike missions).

      Now? With the C, the rise of China, and the Pacific pivot, I think they might be in real trouble. I'll research the CUDA. I'm not sure what it is. At least the C has range.

    2. Smitty, you keep wanting to jump in a defense of stealth over no stealth but no one is making that argument, at least not in a direct comparison. You're creating a debate where none exists. Stealth is better than no stealth. Speed is better than no speed. More weapons are better than less weapons. And so on.

      I, and many others, make the argument that stealth that costs an insane amount of money is questionable given the trends in anti-stealth technology. Yes, I know you're going to argue that the stealth only costs a dollar per aircraft but the fact of the matter is that the aircraft carrying that stealth is insanely expensive regardless of the fraction of the cost that is due to the stealth. If you want to discuss a future aircraft and the incremental cost of stealth, that's another topic. The fact of the matter is that every new stealth aircraft is hideously more expensive than the one before it and there is no sign that trend will end.

      I would also make the argument that the F-35 bet heavily on stealth as its number one attribute - an attribute which would enable all its other functions and abilities. Unfortunately, as anti-stealth technology continues to improve, that renders the F-35 less and less effective because of its heavy dependence on stealth. If it had focused on ECM over stealth, for example, it might remain more effective for a longer period of time. To be fair, stealth was a fair bet 20 years ago when the F-35 began. Now, though, the F-35 is 20 years old, still not in service, and its main attribute is fading in effectiveness.

      The number one failing of the F-35 is not stealth, range, payload, or any other physical characteristic. Its number one failing is ........

      Wait a minute, that's a great topic for the next post!

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